At the National Gallery, Pierre Paul Prud’hon Makes a Nobody Shine

THE DAILY PIC: In 1808, the French artist paints a nobody as a Romantic dandy.

Pierre Paul Prud'hon, David Johnston, French, 1758 - 1823, 1808, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection

THE DAILY PIC (#1334): I came across this stylish portrait by the Frenchman Pierre Paul Prud’hon at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It was painted in 1808, depicting a 19-year-old David Johnston. Who? Precisely. The sitter seems to have been the scion of a Scottish-Irish-Swiss-French family of minor industrialists in Bordeaux. He barely made a mark on history, but Prudh’on makes him look as notable – as desirable, even – as any prince. I don’t think there’s any other moment in history when men came off as well in paint as in the early 19th century. Here’s one thing I wonder: In making Johnston look so capital-r Romantic, was Prud’hon trying to signal that he was of the dandified race of Lord Byron and Beau Brummell? (Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection)

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